Frequently Asked Questions About the Giant Panda

Every question you could ever think of about the Giant Panda, answered all in one place! If there’s something missing from the list, let us know. 

How big are giant pandas?

Giant Pandas are large bears, similar to the American black bear. A full grown male will stand as tall as a man on two legs and will outweigh most humans.

How tall are giant pandas?

Measured at the shoulder a full grown giant panda will be anywhere from 60-90cm tall (2-3 feet).

Stood on their two hind legs, a giant panda might be up to 180cm tall.

Males are usually 10-20% bigger than females on average.

How much do giant pandas weigh?

Full grown adult giant pandas weigh anywhere from 70-135kg. That’s a pretty big range!

Partly due to sex differences between males and females and partly due to size differences observed in the wild vs captive pandas. 

While pandas may appear cuddly and perhaps even a bit chubby, their weight is mostly due to a lot of muscle. As bears, they’re very strong and have bodies to match.

How big are giant pandas when they're born?

Despite growing up to be large bears, giant pandas are absolutely tiny when they’re born.

They weigh in at just 3-5 ounces, making them not even 1/900th the size of their mothers at birth. 

Except for certain marsupials, giant panda cubs are the smallest mammal young relative to their full grown size. 

How quickly do giant pandas grow?

Partly due to their tiny size at birth, giant pandas grow very quickly. By the end of their first year they can weigh as much as 45kg, already a considerable sum! 

Between the ages of one and four the cub continues to gain weight steadily, usually being ready to leave their mother’s side by the age of two.

They take just four years to reach their adult weight (sometimes gaining over 100kg to get there).

How strong are giant pandas?

The giant panda is often seen as cute and cuddly, but they have all the ferocious strenght you would expect a bear to have. 

They might look a little rotund and fluffy, but their frames carry a lot of muscle and whilst they’re smaller than a grizzle or polar bear, they’re just as strong pound for pound.

They’re capable of moving their own bodyweight (100kg+) with ease, climbing and performing borderline gymnastics despite their significant weight. 

If they decided to wrestle or bear hug a human, even the strongest people would look weak by comparison.

Their jaws are especially strong, they have one of the strongest bites in the world, comparable to hippos, big cats and other bears. They wouldn’t struggle to bite through bone.

How fast are giant pandas?

The giant panda isn’t just strong, they’re also surprisingly fast (on the rare occassion they can be bothered to move!). 

A full grown adult can max out at speeds of 20 miles an hour, which isn’t much slower than record breaking human sprinters over short distances. 

Don’t expect to see a giant panda break any marathon records in the near future though, it’s estimated in the wild they move on average ~25 meters an hour (or about 0.015 miles).

Are giant pandas good climbers?

Most giant pandas are excellent tree climbers and learn from a very young age, often they start climbing solo as early as 5 months old. 

Some however never show an interest in climbing and don’t appear to develop the skill. 

Their ability to climb is somewhat baffling to experts, as pandas unique body shape should make climbing unappealing to them. 

They have shorter legs than most bears, with a larger body and large head – all of which should make it harder to scale trees. But clever pandas actually use their head (literally) as another touchpoint when climbing, helping them to shimmy their way up sheer surfaces.

How high can a giant panda jump?

Giant pandas can and do jump, but rarely have any reason to jump as high as they possibly can. 

They don’t jump for travel or hunting, in fact the only time they ever really bother is when they’re playing. 

The likelihood is that they can’t jump very high, as their body isn’t particularly suited to, and it’s never been possible to actively test as pandas don’t much enjoy taking part in tests of physical fitness.

Can giant pandas swim?

Yes, pandas are confident and strong swimmers, like all members of the bear family. 

Giant pandas don’t spend much time in the water though, as they don’t instinctually hunt for any fish or marine life. 

Their natural habitat also doesn’t feature many sigfniciant water features, so they generally don’t have a need to swim often (especially as they travel such short distances each day).

Why are giant pandas black and white?

There are two main competing theories and they’re somewhat opposite. No one knows for sure though. 

The first theory is that their black and white fur makes them easy to spot for other giant pandas. This is believed to be an adaptation that helps pandas locate mates in the wild, where they don’t have many natural predators to worry about. 

The second theory is completely the opposite! That their black and white fur is actually intended as camouflage. That may seem odd at first, but in their densely forested and often snow natural habitats, giant pandas can be very difficult to spot. This gives them some natural protection and helps them spend a lot of the day in one place without worrying about being detected.

How thick is a giant panda’s fur?

As their natural habitat can get quite cold, pandas’ fur is really quite thick and wooly. 

This offers them great insulation during the winter months, especially as they’re not particularly active and don’t generate much heat through movement. 

This does lead to problems sometimes when giant pandas are kept in zoos in warmer climates. It’s not uncommon for zoos in more temperate climates to invest in air conditioning for their pandas during the warmer months.

Is a giant panda's fur soft?

Whilst pandas look incredibly fluffy and soft, their fur is naturally quite thick and coarse. 

Their dense and wooly fur is more likely to feel like the thick coat it is, rather than short soft fur. 

Giant pandas also secrete oil into their fur to help with moisture wicking and temperature control, which doesn’t so much soften things as make them quite slick! 

Do giant pandas molt?

Pandas do molt a small ammount continously, they don’t undergo any significant seasonal molting. 

This is because seasonal molting takes quite a lot of energy and the panda’s poor diet can’t sustain that sort of quick and large energy investment. 

Instead the giant panda spreads its risk by molting a small ammount continously throughout the year.

Are giant pandas ever hunted for their fur?

Sadly, yes, their fur is one of the reasons giant pandas were hunted close to extinction in the wild. 

Thankfully due to decades of prevention, the introduction of strict new laws and the continuing efforts to raise awareness, the incidents of panda poaching have declined massively. 

However some poaching does still occur and more must still be done to protect the bears and their distinctive fur. 

How long do pandas live?

This depends on whether the panda is living in the wild or in captivity.

How long do pandas live in the wild?

15-20 years on average for giant pandas living in the wild. This is less than in captivity due to additional threats from the envionment, from lack of food and from poaching. 

This number has been slowly improving as more of the giant panda’s natural habitat is protected and crimes against pandas like poaching are more effectively policed and prevented.

How long do pandas live in captivity?

25-35 years in captivity on average, with the record age for a giant panda under observation being an incredible 38 years old. Giant pandas typically live longer in captivity because they’re better protected from threats and better provided for in terms of food, care and security. 

What’s the oldest recorded panda?

The oldest panda to ever have lived is Jia Jia, a female panda born in 1978 who sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 38. Jia Jia spent much of her life at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. 

After the sad death of Shuan Shuan and An An in 2022, both aged 35, the next oldest giant panda currently alive is disputed. Most believe the oldest living panda to be Gao Gao, a male who spent much of his life at San Diego Zoo and who is currently thought to be 33. 

How many panda years to human years?

Based on average panda and human lifespan, there about 2.5-3 human years to a panda year. 

So that would mean that Jia Jia, who lived to 38, would be 95-114 years old in human years! Which for a record breaker, sounds about right. 

Where do pandas live?

In the wild giant pandas are native to, and only live in, southwest China. Whilst they are now found in zoos across the world, China remains their only natural habitat. 

Temperate forests high in the mountains, rich in bamboo, are where they make their home. 

Do pandas live in the rainforest?

Yes, but probably a different kind of rainforest to the one you’re picturing. 

The giant panda makes its home in a very special kind of rainforest called the bamboo rainforest. The odd thing is, bamboo is not a tree, it’s the world’s largest species of grass.

Do pandas live in the mountains?

Yes, they do, giant pandas live in temperate rainforests in the mountains of southwest China. 

Pandas are used to living at high elevations, ranging anywhere from 1200m to up to 3400m in the warmer months. 

Pandas cope well with the demands of mountain life, being strong climbers with thick fur suited to the cold. 

The mountains also offer them some protection from humans as the steep hills and cold weather are a natural barrier against poachers.

Do pandas live in trees or on the ground?

Pandas do live in dense forests and are mostly capable tree climbers, but they don’t necessarily live in trees full time. 

First of all, pandas are a bit too heavy to permanently make their home in the branches. 

Secondly, their main food source bamboo grows from the ground, so they need to be on the forest floor to most effectively feed. 

Finally, there’s not a huge need for pandas to hide in trees as they’re one of the largest mammals in their habitat and don’t face much risk from natural predators. 

Are pandas from China?

The giant panda is native to China and is only found in the wild in the mountains of southwest China. 

Some people mistakenly believe the bears also to be indigenous to Japan, but the panda’s popularity there is due to a long history of China and Japan working together on international breeding programmes. 

Do pandas live anywhere other than China?

Not in the wild, only in zoos or as part of breeding programmes elsewhere. 

The right habitat to support wild populations of giant pandas only exists in China, where the unique bamboo rainforests are found in sufficient size. 

Special accomodations have to be made for pandas living in zoos elsewhere in the world to recreate their natural diet and climate.

What climate do giant pandas live in?

The Giant Panda’s natural climate is temperate forests, where the temperature ranges from 64-69 degrees Farenheit (about 18-20 degrees Celcius). 

The bears prefer wet and cool weather, with high humidity being typical in their natural habitat. 

In the winter and summer months pandas will roam across a wide altitude range to keep to their preferred temperature. 

It’s not uncommon for giant pandas in captivity to be provided with air conditioning or blocks of ice to help them keep cool.

Where are giant pandas kept in captivity?

China has engaged in ‘panda diplomacy’ since the 1960s, loaning pandas to zoos around the world to raise awareness of conservation efforts and in pursuit of a global breeding programme. 

Today there are giant pandas loaned to over 25 zoos around the world, across over 20 countries. 

You can currently find pandas in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. 

There are no pandas in zoos on the continents of Africa or South America (though there are som in Mexico, so some may consider ‘Latin America’ to have pandas). 

Asia is home to the most captive pandas, with a significant population China and breeding pairs in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and most recently Qatar. This is not surprising as China has relied partly on panda diplomacy to improve its relations with its neighbours. 

The second highest panda population is found in Europe, where there are pandas in Germany, France, Belgium, Scotland (until very recently), Austria, Finland, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Russia. 

In North America, the USA is home to several zoos with pandas including the Atlanta, Memphis, DC and San Diego zoos. Canada and Mexico also house breeding pandas. 

Finally, in Australia you’ll find just two pandas living at Adelaide Zoo. 

A map of where you can find giant pandas today

We’re working on a map that shows both the natural habitat and the location of all zoos that house pandas, watch this space!

Where do giant pandas sleep?

As you’ll know if you’ve ever been to visit pandas, they’ll sleep pretty much anywhere. This makes sense as in the wild they don’t have any natural predators, so they don’t have to worry about where they rest. 

Most commonly they’ll fall asleep right on the forest floor, usually in the middle of eating. Sometimes they’ve been spotted napping in trees, though it can be a precarious balance for larger bears.

How much do pandas sleep?

Pandas spend a lot of time asleep during an average day, as their routine consists mainly of eating and sleeping.

They’ll usually sleep in short bursts of 2-4 hours in the wild, with 3-4 bursts across a normal day. 

In captivity, keepers and carers do their best to mimic the pandas natural rhytms, allowing them to rest and eat a plenty.

How much do panda cubs sleep?

Panda cubs sleep just as much time asleep if not more than their parents. They’ll sleep whenever their mother sleeps, cuddling in (remember they’re only 1% the size of their mother!). 

Estimates are that newborns can spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping and even at 1-2 years cubs might spend 16-18 hours a day asleep.

Do pandas sleep in groups?

Giant pandas are generally pretty independent, they don’t tend to hang around in mating pairs or larger groups. As a result, they nearly always sleep alone, preferring peace and quiet. 

The only time a panda might not sleep alone is when they have a young cub to look after, as panda mothers will stay with their cubs for the first 2-3 years of their lives.

Do giant pandas hibernate?

No, pandas don’t hibernate like other members of the bear family. 

This might seem odd, but in reality a panda’s diet isn’t nutritious enough to allow them to build the fat stores required to hibernate.

What do pandas eat?

Despite having carnivore biology, giant pandas are famous for their love of bamboo. It’s no cliche either, up to 99% of the panda’s diet consists of the hard, wood-like grass species. 

Pandas will eat other food, especially in captivity where they don’t have to hunt or work for it! They’ll eat things like vegetables, fruit, rice and even small portions of meat. 

How much do they eat? In the wild? In captivity?

Giant pandas eat a lot. A LOT. In the wild they have to eat 10-15kg of bamboo a day. In captivity that can drop slightly to 8-12kg as they’ll also eat more nutritious food alongside the bamboo. 

However, even in captivity pandas prefer bamboo to make up 75% or more of their diet. To consume that much pandas have to dedicate a significant portion of their day to eating, most of their waking day in fact. An average panda in the wild might spend upwards of 14 hours a day munching bamboo.

Why do pandas eat bamboo?

It’s a good question, given that bamboo is not very nutritious and giant pandas’ digestive systems are carnivorous. 

The simplest explanation is that bamboo is plentiful in the panda’s natural habitat. It’s an abundant food source that regrows very quickly. 

The leading theory suggests that pandas’ DNA evolved approximately 4 million years ago, during a mass extinction event when all life on earth was fighting for survival. 

The adaptation allowed pandas to occupy a niche with a protected food source that other animals weren’t fighting over. It didn’t guarantee the pandas a rich diet, but it did provide them with enough to survive.

Do pandas only eat bamboo?

No, pandas will eat other things including vegetables, fruit and even meat. However in the wild 99%+ of their diet is made up of bamboo and in captivity they still prefer bamboo for 75%+ of their calories. 

Do pandas eat meat?

Yes, they do, though only really in captivity. Giant pandas are not capable hunters and rarely stumble across animals or meat they can eat in the wild. 

They will accept and enjoy meat in small portions in captivity if offered. 

Like other bears, the giant panda is actually a carnivore biologically speaking, with a digestive system better suited to meat than large quantities of plant matter. 

This is one of the reasons they have to eat so much bamboo to survive, as their bodies aren’t adapted to gain maximum energy from a plant source.

How many times a day do giant pandas poop?

You might be wondering what impact all that fiber has on the pandas digestive system… 15kg of bamboo a day is a lot to get through.

Giant pandas poop on average 40 times a day. In part because they only digest around 15-20% of the bamboo they eat successfully. 

They poop so much that they even sometimes poop while eating or while sleeping.

Do pandas live in groups or alone?

Pandas are solitary animals, they live alone for most of the year in their own clearly defined territory. 

Both males and females have highly developed senses of smell that they use to avoid each other (or find each other during brief mating seasons).

Pandas only spend time together in the wild when they’re mating (a few days a year) or when they’re raising young, where mothers will spend 1-2 years with their cubs before they strike out alone. 

Are pandas sociable?

Giant pandas are not particularly sociable, they spend most of their day eating or sleeping and don’t engage in much play or complex social behaviour. 

There have been some tracking studies that show wild giant pandas overlap in territory and appear to spend some time together/near each other in small groups, but even then it was only for a few weeks out of the year.

In captivity pandas will coexist happily for the most part, but they still don’t express a huge deal of interest in each other, mostly sticking to their solitary eating behaviour.

How big are panda groups in the wild and in captivity?

In the wild pandas are solitary, only spending time with other pandas during brief periods of mating or when mothers are rearing their young cubs. 

In captivity several pandas are often housed together, but with ample room to allow each individual to maintain its own space if it chooses to do so (especially when sleeping).

Are giant pandas ever released back into the wild?

Yes, but it doesn’t happen often and is a somewhat controversial practice as many conservationists worry that the rates of survival during reintroduction are too low. 

So far specialists in China have released 11 captive pandas back into the wild and 9 of the giant pandas have survived. 

Any loss of a giant panda is tragic, but the work is incredibly important in understanding how to help the wild population recover. 

Any giant panda released back into the wild is closely monitored and supported to try and help them thrive as well as to help scientists understand which captive pandas might be most likely to survive when released in future.

How long do panda cubs stay with their parents in the wild?

Panda cubs in the wild will generally stay with their mothers until the mother becomes prregnant again, usually around 18 months – 2 years of age. 

Panda cubs are weaned by 8-9 months old and have grown a lot by the time they hit 18 months (though they’re still a way of their full adult weight which they’ll hit around 3 or 4 years of age).

What is a group of pandas called?

There are lots of different opinions on what the correct collective noun for a group of pandas is. 

In scientific studies they’re generally referred to as a bunch of pack of pandas, but the internet has some other ideas. 

The most popular term used online is an embarrassment of pandas, which is just wonderful. Other suggestions include “a cupboard of pandas” or “a bamboo of pandas”.

How do giant pandas communicate?

Unusually pandas don’t communicate much using body language – they don’t have an expressive face or distinctive features that can be manipulated for messaging purposes.

 Instead they rely on two main methods; vocal communication and scent marking. 

Giant pandas use their scent to mark territory and to attract a mate when they’re on heat. Pandas can tell a lot from each other’s scents, including gender, age and even mood. 

When it comes to making noises, pandas can create up to 11 different sounds that communicate various emotions and intents.

What sound do giant pandas make?

If pandas can make 11 different sounds, what do they actually sound like? 

The various noises have been described as barking, bleating, honking, huffing and growling – all of them with slightly varying pitches and volumes depending on the situation. 

How do giant pandas mark their territory?

Pandas have scent glands that secrete a thick (and very hard to remove) liquid which helps to signify the boundaries of their territory. 

All they have to do is rub their scent glands on a surface (tree, rock, the ground) and other pandas will be able to detect their scent at distance.

In the wild adult male pandas will fight to protect their territory, mainly to protect plentiful sources of bamboo from potential competition.

What do giant pandas do all day?

A giant panda’s day is dominated by eating and sleeping, like most members of the bear family. The main thing that makes pandas unique is that they remove remarkably little, as they have no need to hunt or forage over a wide range. 

In the wild?

In the wild pandas will usually spend around 12-14 hours eating and the rest of the day sleeping in bursts of 2-4 hours. 

This means pandas might be awake at all times of the day and night depending on their individual schedule. 

The only thing that might distract a panda from this routine is mating, which happens a few days a year or occassionally fighting over territory, which also happens very rarely.

In captivity?

In captivity pandas will still spend a huge portion of the day eating, but they get a slight reprieve thanks to some more nutritious food mixed in with their bamboo diet. 

They’ll also sleep on a similar schedule to what’s observed in the wild, getting short naps throughout the day. 

With the few extra hours a day won back from eating, pandas will engage in light forms of play and enrichment when offered by keepers. 

Don’t expect them to sign up for any intensive exercise classes though, they still prefer to remain mostly sedentary. 

Do giant pandas play with each other?

In the wild pandas don’t really get an opportunity to engage in play. 

Mothers usually only raise one cub at a time and pandas are quite solitary so there’s not much time for interaction. 

In captivity panda cubs and even adult pandas will sometimes play fight and mess around together. 

Though they still dedicate signficiantly less time to play than other mammals, especially predators.

Do giant pandas ever attack people?

Whilst usually gentle and calm, giant pandas are still bears and are potentially very dangerous. 

Pandas will usually avoid humans at all cost in the wild and their habitat is generally remote enough to keep them out of reach of humans. 

In captivity pandas are only dealt with by highly trained professionals and those individuals will only place themselves in enclosures with the bears when absolutely necessary. 

There have been attacks on zoo keepers, but thankfully they are very rare and as far as we can tell, there have been no reports of deaths caused by pandas.

Do giant pandas hunt other animals?

In the wild pandas will very rarely hunt for small rodents found in their natural habitat. 

They don’t dedicate significant energy to hunting and don’t make a regular habit of it, it’s much more opportunistic. 

Pandas never hunt anything larger than a rodent, despite the fact that they’re big enough and strong enough to hunt medium or even large animals.

Why are giant pandas so slow?

Giant pandas actually aren’t slow at all, they’re incredibly strong and fast when they want to be. 

Most of the time though, pandas choose to conserve their energy carefully, so they don’t make a habit of travelling great distances or running for fun. 

This is because the panda’s diet doesn’t leave them with much energy to spare, they have to dedicate most of their time to eating and resting, which doesn’t require moving very quickly.

Is the giant panda endangered?

Pandas were declared no longer endangered in 2021 after a decade of successful conservation efforts helped the wild population increase by nearly 20%. 

This doesn’t mean the giant panda’s future is now guaranteed, wild numbers are still perilously low, with fewer than 2000 giant pandas thought to be living in their natural habitat.

What is the conservation status of the giant panda?

Officially the giant panda is now considered as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. 

This is one grade above endangered and still means the giant panda faces numerous threats to their future. 

There’s some way to go in restoring wild populations before the giant panda can be upgraded to the next status, which is ‘near threatened’.

How many giant pandas are left in the world? In the wild? In captivity?

There are estimated to be around 1800-2000 giant pandas in the wild, with the latest official survey in 2014 putting the number at 1864 pandas. 

We can hope today that the number is higher still thanks to the continued success of conservation and repopulation efforts. 

In captivity there are around 600 giant pandas being cared for, with the majority in China at a number of large research and breeding facilities. 

This would put the total number of giant pandas in the world somewhere around 2400-2600 in total.

Do giant pandas have predators?

Adult giant pandas have no natural predators in their natural habitat (though sometimes sadly they are hunted by human poachers). 

They’re large bears in a relatively extreme environment, so there are no other large mammals that could compete with the panda’s strength. 

Cubs are sometimes vulnerable in the wild, especially when they’re newborn and particularly tiny. 

Mothers will closely guard their cubs for the first few months, when they’re small enough to be vulnerable to medium sized mammals and larger birds. 

Can pandas defend themselves?

They definitely can! Pandas are large, strong bears with very sharp claws and powerful jaws. 

Whilst they’re typically peaceful animals, they will act violently to protect themselves and their cubs if threatened.

How many giant pandas are born each year?

In captivity the number of pandas born varies year to year, as giant pandas are notoriously difficult to breed even as experts learn more and more. 

The most success is found in China, at the large breeding centers, where up to 20-30 cubs a year are born successfully. 

Outside of China, a good year might see 2 or 3 new panda births across the rest of the world’s zoos. 

In the wild it’s much harder to estimate, as it’s impossible to track the entire panda population year round. 

We do know the population has been growing slowly and we have a rough idea of how many pandas are sadly dying each year, so we can estimate how many new pandas are being born to keep the population afloat. 

Doing this math our best guess is that around 250-300 panda cubs might be being born in the wild each year at current pace. 

Hopefully this will continue to increase over time as the panda’s natural habitat is restore and conservation efforts continue. 

How many giant pandas are killed each year?

Arguably there are three ways that humans kill giant pandas; intentional poaching, accidental poaching and habitat destruction.

Intentional poaching has thankfully massively decreased in the last 20 years, thanks to far stricter laws and punishments for poachers and traders that have become an effective deterrent and helped to reduce the market for panda fur.  

Official numbers aren’t released anywhere, so it’s hard to say for certain, but the recovery of the population suggests annual incidents of poaching have dropped significantly. 

Accidental poaching, where traps laid for other animals injure giant pandas, does still happen unfortunately. These accidents have aslo decreased as the panda’s natural habitat becomes better protected. 

Habitat destruction, primarily through deforestation, has been the leading cause of giant panda deaths in the wild for several decades. 

Pandas need large territories to provide them with enough food. 

In previous years hundreds of pandas might have been dying each year due to habitat destruction but thankfully today the panda’s protected habitat is now again growing. As a result, deaths from habitat have dropped sharply and the natural panda population is slowly rebounding.

What is being done to help the giant panda?

The giant panda has been a leading symbol of animal conservation for 50 years and for good reason. 

The beloved bear has suffered due to environmental destruction and hunting, two of the main threats that all wildlife face in the modern world. 

Add to this the giant panda’s slow natural breeding cycle and limited adaptability and the bears need a lot of help to recover from being endangered. 

The first and most important piece of work done to help the giant panda has been the efforts to restore their natural habitat. 

This has been done through legislative protections and the establihsment of a network of national parks in China. These efforts have provided the wild population of giant pandas with a greater ranger and availability of food, helping to restore their numbers. 

The same legislative approach has been taken to reduce poaching, with far harsher punishments in place for poachers and traders of now illegal goods like panda fur. 

This has helped to massively reduce instances of poaching in the wild, along with better guarding of the national parks that now make up a large swaythe of the natural population’s habitat. 

Finally there’s been huge investment, especially in China, in better understanding the giant panda, with a particular focus on breeding programmes to support the replenishment of the global population. 

There are over 500 hundred pandas in captivity in China, the majority in breeding centers on the egdes of the panda’s natural range. 

On average each year, scientists and experts in China now breed another 20-30 new panda cubs. 

There have also been early trials on reintroducing captive pandas into the wild, to further support repopulation efforts. 

All of this incredible work couldn’t happen without the support of panda fans who donate to charities, zoos and research centers across the globe. 

The awareness raised by pandas has just benefited the bears, thousands of other species that call the panda’s natural habitat their home have also flourished with the renewed focus on conservation of ecological diversity.

Why do we keep giant pandas in zoos?

Lots of animal fans have mixed feelings about zoos and animals being kept in captivity, especially when the animals were previously wild or naturally have very large ranges. 

Pandas are still very much at risk as a species in the wild, with fewer than 2000 pandas on the planet. 

Zoos provide a vital way to protect and ensure the future of the global panda population. 

Firstly, zoos and breeding centers mean we can stop the panda population from falling to zero if the worst happened. 

Next up, breeding centers eventually hope to release many captive pandas back into the wild, to help grow the natural population more quickly. 

Finally, zoos play a vital role in raising awareness of the panda’s cause (and the environmental cause more broadly), giving people the opportunity to meet one of the bears in person and learn more about the giant panda and their plight. 

Experts around the world understand better than ever how to look after pandas in captivity. They’re provided a strong diet with plenty of bamboo and other options they wouldn’t find in the wild. 

They’re also provided enrichment activities and an environment to suit their needs. 

It’s worth considering that pandas don’t move very much in the wild, only choosing to range over long periods to seek out more comfortable temperatures or new sources of food during bamboo die offs. 

Relieved of these natural pressures, pandas appear very content to be remain sedentary in a relatively small enclosure. 

Is it expensive to look after giant pandas?

Pandas are pretty particular and they are not cheap to look after. They eat a massive amount of food, have large enclosures and need a lot of specialized care. 

Different zoos have reported different costs, with the range anywhere from $100k-$500k a year (usually for a pair or trio of pandas). That means the per panda cost could be anywhere from $35k-$250k a year. 

This isn’t the only cost zoos outside China have to deal with, as to even have pandas in the first place they must be loaned from the Chinese government. 

Again, reported costs have varied, with $1-2m/year being the most common figure. 

There’s also a one off payment of $500k-$800k expected if a panda cub is successfully born outside of China. 

The Chinese government says this money goes towards supporting research efforts at one of the larger breeding and research centers operated in China. 

It’s a big investment for zoos to make, but most have considered the cost well worth it as nearly every zoo that has been lucky enough to house pandas has also seen its visitor numbers and revenue jump in the years following.

Why should we save the giant panda?

The giant panda has become a global symbol for the wonder of wildlife, with millions of fans around the world. 

These seemingly gentle giants have suffered immensely due to the destruction of their natural habitat and that struggle has become emblematic of the balance between progress and conservation. 

Many felt that if we could not save the giant panda, we had lost our struggle to protect wildlife more broadly, sacrificing too much of the earth’s natural splendour in pursuit of other goals. 

The success of protecting the panda in the last 20 years has helped to prove that when nations and people set their mind to it, they can put things right to help protect vulnerable species and ecosystems. 

Saving the panda is important to many purely because they love the bears for their unique beauty and personality. 

But for them and many others, saving the panda is also about saving all wildlife. If we can protect even the panda (whose population fell so precipitously), then we can continue to improve the balanced approach we take to conservation of the environment. 

Is the giant panda really a bear?

Yes, the giant panda is a part of the family Ursidae, making it a bear. For a long time scientists couldn’t quite decide, as the panda shares some characteristics with both bears and racoons, but today the panda is understood to be a bear.

Is the giant panda a mammal?

Yes, all bears or members of the family Ursidae are mammals. 

What is the giant pandas scientific name?

The giant panda’s scientific name is ‘Ailuropoda melanoleuca’, which is pronounced Ai-lur-o-poda melan-o-leuca. 

The Ailuropoda name is shared with three extinct species of panda who belonged to the same subfamily of the ursidae family (which contains all bears).  

The melanoleuca part of their name comes from Ancient Greek words melas (meaning black) and leucos (meaning white), combined to describe the giant panda’s unique fur.

So a literal translation of their scientific name might simply be ‘black and white bear’.

No, pandas are placental mammals, they are not marsupials. 

Pandas don’t carry their young in pouches as marsupials do, instead they build dens to keep their cubs safe, like other bears. 

Marsupials are more commonly found on the Australian continent and surrounding islands, or sometimes in North America, pandas make their home in China on the continent of Asia.

What are male giant pandas called?

Male giant pandas are called boars, in line with other members of the bear family.

What are female giant pandas called?

Female giant pandas are called sows, just like other bears but also somewhat bizarrely, like pigs! 

What are baby giant pandas called?

You might now be wondering whether we’re dealing with piglets… but like other baby bears pandas young are called cubs. 

We’ve no idea why the bear family shares its adult names with pigs and then deviates for babies and we think ‘panda piglets’ could really catch on.

Are giant pandas and red pandas related?

Despite sharing a common name, giant pandas and red pandas are not closely related at all. 

Red pandas are the only living member of a family called the Ailuridae and giant pandas belong to the bear family, Ursidae. 

The similar name is thought to be to do with the two animals’ shared diet as red pandas also eat a lot of bamboo. 

The Nepali word ‘ponya’ translates to ‘bamboo eater’ and is thought to be one of the root words of the giant panda and red panda’s names.

How long are giant pandas pregnant for?

Giant pandas usually give birth 90 to 180 after mating, with a gestation period that lasts anywhere from 95 to 160 days, with an average pregnancy lasting 135 days. 

The record gestation period observed in captivity is 184 days, set by Dong Dong the panda at San Diego zoo. 

Pandas have shorter pregnancies than most other bears, with the average for polar bears and grizzly bears being over 200 days. This is partly due to the panda’s bamboo diet, with the poor nutrition meaning pandas cannot sustain a longer pregnancy. 

Pandas normally give birth to a single young, but in captivity they have often given birth to twins (usually as the result of artificial insemination). 

When do giant pandas mate during the year?

In the wild giant pandas usually mate in the spring, between March and May. 

While the breeding season for the whole species spans several months, individual pandas are usually only fertile for 2-3 days out of the year. 

Female pandas get pregnant on average every 2-3 years, staying with their cubs for the 18-24 months after giving birth. 

In captivity pandas still only ovulate once a year, usually in the spring, for the same limited 2-3 day period. 

When do giant pandas give birth?

Baby pandas are usually born in late August, in line with the average pregnancy of 4-5 months. 

However given the wide range of pregnancies, some cubs are born in June and some as late as October. 

Why is it so hard to get pandas to breed?

There’s a few reasons even experts have struggled to get giant pandas to breed in captivity. 

First of all, female pandas are only fertile during a very small window of time each year, usually only 2-3 days some time in spring. 

This means there’s not much opportunity for a female panda to even get pregnant and keepers have to pay very close attention and be ready when the time is right. 

It’s also difficult to recreate the natural environment in which pandas breed, where several males usually compete over a single female. 

The panda’s mating ritual is said to take up to several weeks in the wild, carefully timed as the female is preparing to ovulate. 

In captivity it’s impossible for even experts to recreate the complex social dynamics that lead to this natural behaviour, especially as in the wild males often fight repeatedly to prove their worth. 

Finally, when they’re in captivity pandas just don’t appear to be all that bothered about breeding. They prefer to spend their time eating and resting and have been observed ignoring each other even during peak mating season. 

Despite all of these challenges scientists have made great progress with breeding pandas in captivity, partly thanks to artificial insemination (a standard practice across conservation efforts for all sorts of animals). 

When do panda cubs grow their black and white fur?

Panda cubs are absolutely tiny and very distinct when they’re first born, looking very little like their parents! 

They’re not born with their famous black and white fur and look more like small rodents than bears at first. 

Their fur starts to grow within the first 48 hours and by three weeks in their fur is grown in and much more recognizable.  

At what age are giant pandas fully grown?

Pandas are normally full grown by around four years of age, by which point they’re fully independent and approaching sexual maturity. 

The cubs gain most of their weigh in the first few two years and then continue to fill out their adult frames from ages 2-4.

How long have giant pandas existed on earth?

The oldest known panda ancestor proven by the fossil record lived in Europe around 10-12 million years ago. 

There’s evidence placing the panda family in China as far back as 8 million years ago, with the bears thought to have originally migrated from Europe before settling in Asia. 

These primal pandas diverged again, with fossils from 3 million years ago identifying Ailuropoda mictra, a bear very similar to the modern day giant panda but approximately half the size. 

By this point in evolutionary chain, Ailuropoda mictra’s teeth suggest that their diet already looked much like the modern day panda’s. 

Around 500,000-700,000 years ago we start to see evidence of bears that look very similar to the modern day giant panda. 

So whilst the ailuropoda family may have existed for more than 12 million years, a creature that we’d recognize as the modern day panda has probably existed in China for over half a million years.

When did humans first discover the giant panda?

We have evidence that the giant panda has been known in China for over four thousand years. 

The earliest written record of the giant panda appears in the work of Chinese historian Sima Qian during the Han Dynasty in their ‘Records of the Five Emperors’. 

There’s plenty of other evidence across Chinese history of the bear’s role in ancient Chinese society, including the ‘Book of Mountains and Seas’ and the work of essayist Sima Xiangru. 

Outside of China the western world was not introduced to pandas until the mid 19th century. 

In 1869 a French missionary Jean Pierre Armand David acquired a panda skin and brought it back to Europe. 

In the early 20th century several zoologists acquired pandas from China, but none successfully brought the animal back until 1936 when Ruth Harkness brought cub Su Lin to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, the first panda exhibition at a zoo outside of Asia.

How many giant pandas were there in the past?

We don’t have reliable data that far back into the past, the first census on panda numbers in the wild was done by the Chinese government in the 1970s. 

At that point there were nearly 2500 giant pandas living in the wild in China (they weren’t found anywhere else on the planet, even then). 

By the mid 1980s the numbers in the wild had fallen dramatically, with only 1114 counted in 1984. This concerning and rapid drop is one of the things that kickstarted panda conservation, with the animal officially becoming endangered based on the survey figures. 

Numbers had started to recover by the late 90s, climbing to over 1500 and that trend has continued to today when the latest survey counted 1864 pandas in the wild. 

Going further back we can’t be certain how many giant pandas there were several hundred years ago, let alone several thousand when we first have a written record of the bears’ presence in China. 

We do know that the panda’s natural habitat was far larger prior to widespread deforestation, a process that accelerated in China in the second half of the 20th century, so there likely would have been many more pandas in sync with the wider area that could support them.

Did humans ever hunt giant pandas?

Sadly, yes, humans have hunted giant pandas for a long time. 

Some countries in the west only learned about the existence of pandas after a French missionary brought some panda pelts back to Europe after travelling to China. 

So we know for definite that pandas have been hunted since at least the 1800s. 

In recent years panda poaching has been heavily clamped down on, with much harsher punishments for those caught illegally hunting and far stronger protections in place surrounding the panda’s natural territory. 

No official statistics are shared, but it’s widely believed the illegal trade in panda fur has been almost completely shutdown.

What did the giant panda evolve from?

The modern day giant panda is part of a unique subfamily of the bear that split off from other bears approximately 20-30 million years ago. 

Today the giant panda is the only surviving member of this subfamily, but it’s nearest relatives existed as recently as 2 million years ago. 

The panda’s closest ancestor was essentially a smaller version of today’s giant panda, being about half the size and still making its home in China. 

That ancestor is thought to have evolved from a bear that didn’t even eat bamboo roughly 8-10 million years ago. 

This distant ancestor lived in Europe and it wasn’t until the bear migrated to the Asian continent that the panda family’s teeth and jaws began to change to enable them to use bamboo as their primary food source. 

Scientists haven’t documented every step in the giant panda’s evolution and there’s still lots of fossil evidence missing before a full picture can be established. 

Which animals are closely related to the giant panda?

The giant panda doesn’t have any surviving direct relatives, being the only member of the subfamily Ailuropoda which split of from the Usidae family 20-30 million years ago. 

Today the panda’s closest relatives are other bears, though they belong to distinct branches of the tree of life. 

Some people mistakenly think the red panda is a relative of the giant panda, but in reality the two animals only share a common name, they’re not near each other on the tree of life. 

Red pandas are actually part of the racoon family, rather than being a bear. 

Scientists did think giant pandas might be racoons for a long time, but they were established as a subfamily of bears in the 1980s. 

Why is the giant panda so famous?

The giant panda has been a key mascot for wildlife conservation since the 1960s. 

The WWF selected the panda as their logo when the organization was founded in 1961. 

Explaining their decision, one of the founders said “we wanted an animal that is beautiful, endangered, and loved by many people in the world” going on to the add “We also wanted an animal that had an impact in black and white” to help save on printing costs for the fledgling charity. 

The giant panda has remained the logo of the WWF, perhaps the world’s highest profile animal charity, ever since. 

Pandas are now also found the world over, in zoos across many different continents, but remain rare enough that they’re usually the rarest exhibit in modern zoos. 

This global presence, furthered by modern media, combined with their rarity and beauty, explain much of the giant panda’s fame.

Why are giant pandas culturally significant?

Pandas are culturally significant in China and across the globe for two major reasons. 

The recovery of the wild giant panda population over the last 50 years is often held up as one of animal conservation’s major successes. 

The giant panda proves that when governments act decisively through legislation and investment they can help to mitigate some of the harm modern industrial societies do to the natural world. 

This success story has not only inspired millions across the world, but it’s been pivotal in fundraising efforts for wildlife conservation across the board. 

Without the publicity and interest generated by the giant panda and its story, vital zoos and charities would not have been able to raise as much money as they have over the last few decades. 

The giant panda is also politically significant, in China and internationally. So called ‘panda diplomacy’ has been a key part of the Chinese government’s international relations strategy since the 1970s, when they first began to partner with zoos in other countries. 

Some in China consider the animal a powerful national symbol and the willingness to loan pandas to zoos abroad is an important sign of China opening up to the world. 

The pandas also help to unlock powerfully internation scientific collaboration, with scientisits across the globe working together to better understand the animals’ behaviour and how to support repopulation efforts.

Why are giant pandas so important in China?

Pandas have a long history of being highly valued in China, written sources from over three thousand years ago discuss the popularity of giant pandas as pets for powerful rulers who wanted to display their strength and wisdom. 

The panda’s powerful symbolism continues to this day, with the bear standing for friendliness and harmony in China, as well as still being considered a symbol of great strength.

 These combined qualities resonate with the Chinese, who see their national character as being strong but ultimately not aggressive. 

The bear’s famous black and white fur has also long been considered a strong visual representation of the concepts of Yin and Yang, which emphasizes balance at the heart of Chinese philosophy.

Why are giant pandas so popular?

The panda consistently ranks as one of the top favorite animals, with fans all over the world. 

The bear is widely admired for its cuteness, rarity and resilience in the face of existential danger. 

Perhaps the biggest factor in giant pandas’ popularity is their appearance. 

Pandas have larger heads and shorter limbs than other bears, giving them an even more ‘teddy’ like apperance. 

Even when pandas are fully grown, they have some of the distinctive features of young animals that humans find so cute. 

The black fur on their face makes their eyes look extra large and their big bodies in comparison to their limbs make them look extra cuddly. 

Their unique black and white fur also means the panda is immediately recognizable in any line up and their pattern has been mimicked the world over in fashion and design. 

We would say that pandas also have a winning personality to match their looks. 

The bears are particularly passive and even though they’re still potentially dangerous wild animals they give off a friendly vibe that’s far less scary than other bears or big cats. 

Pandas may not be hugely sociable in the wild, but in captivity they’re apt to tumble and play with each other, comical behaviour that has made them social media stars in the modern day. 

Finally perhaps it is their vulnerability that helps secure pandas’ place in the hearts of millions. 

Pandas are not natural survivalists, they rely on a very limited food source and do not aggressively protect their habitat to the same extent as other large mammals. 

Their seemingly naive behaviour and the perilous position it’s left them in have only served to increase people’s affection towards the bears. 

There’s good reason that pandas have become one of the leading symbols of wildlife conservation, they bring out a desire to protect in many people.

What does a giant panda look like?

The giant panda is a large mammal with four limbs and a short puffy tail. 

They usually walk on all fours, but will sometimes sit and use their front legs as arms. 

They have large paws with dextrous fingers, including a unique digit that acts almost like an opposable thumb. 

They have quite short limbs for their size, with disproportionately large heads and bodies. 

On the top of their heads they have a small pair of ears covered in black fur. Most of the rest of their head is covered in white fur except for a small area around their eyes. 

The panda doesn’t have particularly large eyes, but the black fur around their eyes creates an illusion that the eyes are much larger. 

Pandas have short snouts ending in a black nose. Their jaws are wide and their big mouth contains a lot of large teeth, some of which are very sharp. 

From the neck down their distinctive black and white fur continues, with their limbs and a small band across their chest and upper back being covered in black fur. 

In contrast pandas’ stomachs and most of their back are covered in white fur. 

Their limbs and body are thick and stocky, covered in thick fur, so they look quite cuddly. 

Do giant pandas have tails?

Yes, pandas do have short tails. 

Tails are one of the last features to grow to adult size as pandas are growing up. 

People often fail to spot the panda’s tail as it’s very fluffy and pandas usually clamp their tail down, so it ends up a bit hidden. 

Pandas don’t use their tail to signal or communicate like some other animals do, so this is another reason it might not be very noticeable at first glance.

Do giant pandas have toes?

Yes, sort of, pandas have six digits on each of their paws. 

You could call them fingers or toes, as technically the panda use its front limbs in ways similar to arms and legs. 

The panda has a very special sixth digit that acts almost like a human thumb, a rarity in the animal kingdom. 

This special adaptation allows the panda to grip thick bamboo canes during its epic eating sessions.

Do giant pandas have claws?

Yes, pandas do have claws that are long, sharp and fully retractable. 

Giant pandas when fully grown can have claws that are up to 3.5 inches long (for reference that’s almost as long as a tiger’s claws). 

Their claws are sharp too, sharp enough to be used to climb trees or as a weapon when the panda is defending itself.

Do giant pandas have whiskers?

While pandas do have thick fur around their nose, they don’t have what we would classically think of as whiskers. 

Whiskers are typically defined by their ability to provide complex sensory information to their owner (think of a cat squeezing through a tight gap) and pandas have no such ability. 

Do giant pandas have six fingers?

Yes, giant pandas have six digits on each of their paws, with five acting like normal fingers and the sixth acting as a special opposable thumb. 

Do giant pandas have a pouch?

No, unlike marsupials, the panda doesn’t have a pouch. The panda is a placental mammal, rather than a marsupial, so it doesn’t need a pouch in which to carry its young.

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